Washington, DC, United States (4E) – President Barack Obama joined the new Ukrainian government Thursday in condemning Crimean lawmakers’ announcement of a referendum to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.
The referendum scheduled for March 16 to approve or disapprove the Crimean parliament’s decision to make the autonomous Ukrainian region part of Russia violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law, according to Obama.
The pronouncement came as Obama signed an executive order freezing the assets and blocking U.S. visas for unspecified Russian and Ukrainian officials who have destabilized Ukraine and participated in the military blockade in Crimea. Before the sanctions, Washington suspended bilateral discussions with Moscow on trade and investment as well as activities related to the preparations for the G-8 Summit in Sochi, Russia in June.
Ukraine’s interim prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, who was in Brussels meeting with European Union leaders on the Ukrainian crisis Thursday, said the Crimean parliament’s move was illegitimate. Yatsenyuk urged Moscow not to support separatists in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the EU suspended talks on economic and visa agreements with Russia on Thursday in response to the unfolding crisis in Crimea. EU leaders announced the decision at an emergency summit in Brussels. They also warned of further sanctions if Russia does not quickly engage in talks with Ukraine to end the crisis.
Moscow refuses to recognize the new leaders in Kiev and insists that ousted pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovich is the legitimate leader. Soldiers in uniform without insignias are surrounding military bases in Crimea urging those inside to surrender.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that Russian troops were deployed to Crimea, where a Russian naval fleet is based.